Because war and tactical missions involve highly sensitive work, military dogs are held to very high standards. They must be strong and have remarkable athletic abilities.
They must also be intelligent and highly trainable. Additionally, they must be able to adapt to a wide range of living and working conditions.
Given all these requirements, it’s no surprise that the German Shepherd is among the most preferred breed for the military. Read on to find out why GSDs are great military dogs.
History Of German Shepherds In The Military
Although German Shepherds today are a common sight in military, police, and protection roles, the breed was initially discovered and developed as herders and protectors of sheep and other livestock.
Max von Stephanitz, a former cavalry captain and dog enthusiast, is credited for the development and maintenance of the German Shepherd breed as we know it today. In his pursuit of the perfect working dog, he was impressed by a herder he witnessed at a dog show in 1899 and purchased it.
That dog was Horand von Grafrath, or the canine now known as the first German Shepherd Dog and the basis of all breeding standards for working GSDs. The German Shepherd’s popularity quickly spread after von Stephanitz created the Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde (German Shepherd Association).
Although there isn’t enough documentation on how GSDs started working as military dogs, they were recorded to have assisted people during the First World War.
By the time World War 2 started, these dogs were so widespread in the military and quickly became a symbol of Nazi Germany. Indeed, their size, courage, athleticism, and intelligence made them popular military companions.
From then on, their traits continued to be recognized as perfect for protection, warfare, and various other military work. This is why the German Shepherd continues to be used to fulfill these roles today.
Why German Shepherds Are Used In The Military
German Shepherds are among the most popular breeds used by military units all over the world because they have the best combination of the following traits:
The German Shepherd might not be the friendliest and most playful breed but they are among the most loyal dogs. They can be aloof to strangers but form deep and long-lasting bonds with their handlers.
Their loyalty means they cannot be swayed to the other side of a fight and they will put their own lives on the line to protect that of their handlers.
German Shepherds are brave and will confidently perform their duties even in the most intense environments. This courage makes them suited for several military roles and enables them to work effectively even in the midst of chaos.
German Shepherds are among the world’s most intelligent dog breeds. They can be trained to do elite levels of military work. Additionally, they have a strong work ethic and an insatiable eagerness to please their handlers.
4) Athletic Abilities
German Shepherds have the size and strength for vigorous work. They also have copious amounts of energy, endurance, and speed.
All this helps them in all facets of military work. If needed, these dogs can also perform well in water.
5) Working Abilities
Apart from being highly trainable and having a strong work ethic, German Shepherds are known for natural abilities that make them perfectly suited for military work. Among them are their protective nature, ability to focus, and a heightened sense of smell.
German Shepherds can adapt to all sorts of living and working conditions. As long as they get the physical exercise and mental activities they need on a daily basis, they can thrive in all sorts of places—warm or cold, tight or spacious, calm or chaotic.
What Type Of Work Do German Shepherds Do In The Military?
German Shepherds are known as all-purpose workers and can generally be trained to do any type of work. Among their most popular roles in the military include:
Patrol dogs are tasked to guard space or property. Generally, they assist their handlers in various crime prevention roles. In war or military operations, they are tasked to guard against intruders on camps and bases.
German Shepherds tend to perform remarkably in this role because of their highly protective nature and alertness to changes in their environment.
The role of attack dogs is similar to patrol or sentry dogs. They also protect property from unwanted presences but have the additional training to engage intruders, if necessary. In the field, they might also assist in apprehension.
German Shepherds perform well in this role because of their protective nature combined with their courage and confidence to attack.
Additionally, they have the necessary intelligence to decide on when an attack is necessary or the discipline to attack only when ordered to do so.
Tracking dogs are also known as scent dogs. They are trained to use their sniffing abilities to detect and recognize specific scents.
They are also expected to follow the trail of the scent to lead their handlers to the subject. For example, a tracking dog that is tasked to find a fugitive will do so by literally sniffing them out.
German Shepherds do well in this role because of their naturally impressive olfactory abilities combined with their strong work ethic and persistence in tracking a scent to its source.
Explosive detection dogs are a specialized form of tracking dogs. They are specifically trained to detect traces of vapors from chemicals that are commonly used to make explosives.
In the military, these are often bomb-sniffing dogs and landmine detectors.
Smaller dogs are most often preferred for these roles because their size makes them more nimble and less likely to activate explosives by accident. Nevertheless, GSDs also excel in this role specifically because of their remarkable scenting abilities.
Search & Rescue
Search & rescue dogs are used to look for survivors in attacks, natural disasters, or similar catastrophes. To do this kind of work successfully, dogs are trained not only in scenting but in various other tasks like being alert to minute sounds and vibrations.
Highly specialized dogs are also trained in rappelling or parachuting, which might be necessary for certain search & rescue tasks.
German Shepherds excel in this role because they are athletic dogs that are naturally alert. Their scenting abilities are also valuable along with their incomparable work ethic.
The German Shepherd’s combination of traits and abilities make them perfectly suited for military work. In fact, the breed is a common sight among K-9 Medal of Courage awardees.
Apart from putting their physical strength, temperament, and intelligence to work, these dogs are very much loved beyond their working hours. Equally important is the fact that they are able to form strong bonds with their handlers and often unofficially serve as emotional support in such challenging environments.
Apart from doing important work in the military, German Shepherds are known as excellent police dogs and service dogs. They are also wonderful family companions.